Ten Steps To Great Customer Service

Originally Published July 12, 2006
The scene is a national restaurant chain. I’m meeting a client for lunch. I notice that our hostess, who doesn’t appear to be much more than 19 or 20 is wearing a pin on her apron with the number “10” on it.

I must have looked a bit puzzled when I asked “Have you worked here for ten years?

She laughed and said, “No, this just means that I’ve been through our training course and know the ten steps to great customer service.”

Really,” I asked, “what are they?

First, you great the customer with a smile…” she said, her voice trailing off.

Then she laughed, and said “Well, I used to know them,” as she seated us.


What Were Those Ten Steps?

Our waitress informed me that her name was Thelma and she’d be our server today. I asked “Thelma, do you know the ten steps to great customer service?” Thelma said “Oh, sure…” and quickly listed three. She pondered for a minute before naming the fourth… and after a mighty struggle came up with a fifth.

I flagged down three other waitresses in the next 30 minutes, and none of them did any better.

When Thelma brought our check, she also handed me a scrap of paper on which she’d dutifully noted the ten steps, in order. She mentioned that it took a bit of effort to remember them all.

Michael LeBoeuf said it so well in his 1985 book, The Greatest Management Principle In The World: “Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated.” (And if you haven’t found time in the last two decades to read this elegantly simple concept, isn’t it time? Click the link and invest three and a half bucks in your personal management library).

Our restaurant chain thought that ten steps to great customer service were so important that they required all of their employees to learn them.

Those Ten Steps Slipped Out Of Consciousness

Unfortunately, it appears that as soon as all employees memorized the list, management thought their job was done. Employees saw no benefit in remembering the list, or applying it. Consequently, they didn’t bother to do so.

Don’t think this could happen in your company? Unless you’re constantly reminding your staff of the things you want them to convey to your customers, I can guarantee that it’s already happened in your company.

I’ve been conducting a small experiment. I’ve been calling businesses randomly at odd hours and asking whomever answers the phone why their company’s service or products are better.

Dare To Try It Yourself?

When the dispatcher picks up the phone with “Mary’s Pizza, how can I help you today?” ask “Why is Mary’s pizza better?

In the last week I’ve asked “Why is your coffee better?” “Why is the doctor you work for better?” “Why is your customer service better?” “Why are your puppies better?” “Why are your roses better?” “Why is your chili better?

I’ve made fourteen calls to businesses in my neighborhood. So far, nobody’s been prepared with an answer.

It’s a simple test. Only takes a few minutes. Doesn’t cost anything ‘except maybe a few pennies in long distance charges.

Call your own company. Call your competitors. Call businesses in other cities. Call businesses you’re curious about. Ask the question.

What Do You Hear When You Call Your Own Company?

And if you’re not hearing a clearly articulated point of competitive advantage, may I suggest that you have some work to do for more successful fishing for customers.

And if you’re not hearing a clearly articulated point of competitive advantage, may I suggest that you have some work to do for successful fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Need some help strategizing the best way to help your staff to articulate your values? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected] and start a conversation.  Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Bar Bands and Chicken Sandwiches: Protecting Your Brand in an Age of Social Conscience

Scott is a musician. Scott’s band isn’t getting enough paying gigs. He thinks he has a marketing problem, but he’s wrong. He has a focus problem.

Scott came to me to help him sell his band’s services to club owners. I pointed out that 40 years ago bands got $700 a night; 20 years ago the going rate was $500. Today, a local band playing a local club can expect $275-$300 a night. I wondered if competing for a greater share in this dwindling market was a wise move.

A Critical Question

I asked, “Do you get enough personal satisfaction from performing songs you like in small venues that you’re willing to do it for free?

Scott opined that he’d prefer to be properly compensated for all the years invested in refining his musicianship.

This is a key factor. If a musician’s desire is to play his music his way is his most important consideration, how much money he makes becomes secondary. But, if he wishes to run his band as a real business, he’d be better served to examine the market.

Customer Focus Is Good Strategy for Musicians (and Every Other Business)

Any service provider can study the market and provide services people are willing to pay more for. Alternatively, should he not consider the desires of his customers, he can provide the services he wishes to offer.  Of course, he’ll then be forced to accept whatever engagements come his way.

Satisfy his own desires?  Satisfy his customers? Common sense, and thousands of case studies indicate that customer-focused businesses make more money.

Scott’s next step will be to identify well-paying niche markets, and to explore the kinds of music most wanted by that niche.  Will it be private parties for local businesses? Grand openings and customer events? Events hosted by fraternities and sororities? Meetings and conventions?  In that order, each pays progressively more money.

Which Market has the Greatest Number of Profitable Opportunities?

How will he know what to choose? Through their previous purchases his potential niche will have indicated their willingness to pay a premium.  If he stays focused on delivering exactly what his customers want, I predict he’s going to do well. In fact, the longer his focus remains unwavering, the resulting word-of-mouth will make it progressively easier to sell his services.

In this era of YouTube, the 24-hour news cycle, and this country’s current political climate it isn’t only musicians who need to keep fulfillment of their personal gratifications secondary to unwavering customer focus. It’s also critical to companies that produce ice cream, chicken sandwiches, coffee, snacks, clothing, and even fitness services and cancer treatment.

Social Responsibility Complicates the Messaging

Some socially responsible actions reinforce a company’s brand.

Starbucks commitment to Fair Trade coffees complements their image as a producer of high priced gourmet coffees.

And Patagonia’s insistence on selling only eco-friendly products rings true with the company’s obvious love of nature.

These are the core values each of those companies has communicated to its customers, and upon which each company has grown.  Every successful brand is built upon principles. Those it stands for.  Those it stands against.

Not everyone will care about a company’s passions (or even its products), but there’s no better way to attract a loyal customer base than to say, “The values you believe to be important are our values, too.”

Ben and Jerry’s support of Occupy Wall Street seems to be a natural outgrowth of their well established counter-culture values. Customers will likely understand, and may even approve.

Merck and Company’s development and free distribution of Mectizan to treat river blindness in Africa, Asia, and South America is a brilliant positioning of Merck as a developer of drugs to help people.

But what about Pagagonia’s contributions to Planned Parenthood? The tie in isn’t so obvious. Customers may see the connection when the company explains that slowing population growth is completely in line with its commitment to preserving the planet, but without the explanation, it’s less likely.

Not all social values resonate in harmony with others which the company, or its customers embrace, and as a marketer I can tell you how difficult it is to make a simple message stick in people’s minds.

Two messages? Too confusing. A second message which requires explanation? Waaaay too confusing.

In my experience, a confused mind always says, “NO.”

Confused Marketing is Bad Marketing

It’s also bad business practice.

The list of advertisers that seem to have let social issues divert their attention from focus on their own customers is long, and growing. A handful of examples of this discontinuity include:

  • Starbucks support of Washington State’s proposed Marriage Equality law does not reinforce its image as a producer of high priced gourmet coffees.
  • Chick Fil A’s contributions to groups which oppose that law have nothing to do with serving fried chicken sandwiches.
  • Nabisco’s creation of the Rainbow Stuffed Oreo could be considered a natural outgrowth of their other recent creamy center options. Not making it available in stores makes it clearly about something other than manufacturing snacks.
  • At best, these moves confuse the message. Worse is the danger they alienate customers who embrace different values.

    The Greatest Danger is Damage to the Brand

    Susan B Komen For the Cure‘s withdrawal of funds for Planned Parenthood’s cancer screenings contradicted it’s brand image of being for women and against cancer. The public uproar which resulted wasn’t assuaged by the restoration of those funds.  In hopes of mitigating the damage, founder Nancy Brinker has stepped down as CEO.

    GoDaddy’s support of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have allowed Internet service providers to shut down sites accused of infringing intellectual property (and do so without a trial) looks suspiciously like censorship to small website owners. Amid the backlash, GoDaddy withdrew its support.

    Should Companies Take Positions on Social Issues?

    Absolutely. When the issue is aligned with the company’s core values, it will resonate with the beliefs of like minded consumers. If taking a side reinforces the company’s brand, responsible companies take sides.

    But when that social issue contradicts those core values, or confuses the messaging, there will be negative repercussions. And a CEO who uses his company to promote contentious social issues instead of focusing on the products and services his customers expect is as foolish as musicians performing for their own enjoyment. They each send a clear message that what’s important to customers doesn’t matter. What matters is what the company wants.

    These Are Potentially Big Decisions

    Many of these issues are tied to current politics. Conventional political wisdom is one third of this country will consistently vote Conservative, one third will always vote Liberal or Progressive, and the final third (the “Undecideds”) will choose on an issue-by-issue basis. So, for political issues brought to the front by companies such as Starbucks or Chick Fil A, one third of potential customers will automatically embrace their values, and another third won’t care.

    Of that final third, not many will feel strongly enough about the issue to discontinue shopping with them.  Perhaps that number is only one out of three.  That works out to one third of one third (roughly 11 percent) of existing customers and potential customers avoiding future business with those companies.

    Eleven percent.  That’s a lot. In some markets its the difference between the top seller and number two or three.  In this economy it could be the difference between profitability and cutbacks.

    If I were a shareholder in your company, I’d want you to protect and nurture my investment. Act like a musician who only wants to play his favorite songs, pissing off 11 percent of our customers in the process, and you’ll find me working to get you fired at the next shareholders meeting.

    Your focus has to be unwaveringly on what customers want.

    So, Companies Should Avoid Controversy?

    Hardly. Controversy is an easy way to promote top-of-mind awareness, and share of market is closely aligned with share of mind.  A controversy which reaffirms the company’s image may well create more, and even more loyal, customers.

    However, when the CEO’s social conscience doesn’t align with the core values upon which his brand has been built, he should contribute directly, and leave the company out of it.

  • The late Carl Karcher’s donations to the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, came from his checkbook, not from Carl’s Jr.
  • Curves founder, Gary Heavin, has given generously of his personal money to organizations which promote abstinence-only programs for teens.  No bad feelings among Curves members.
  • Jeff Bezos’ recent $2.5 million contribution to Washington’s Marriage Equality law came from his own pocket rather than from Amazon.
  • All followed their consciences, while never wavering in their respective customer focus.  None experienced any negative customer backlash.  Whether or not we agree with their positions, business people who separate their companies’ actions  from their personal agendas tend to be admired for their integrity.

    The Issue isn’t Abortion, Abstinence, or Marriage

    The issue is branding.

    Your company’s brand is it’s professional reputation. It’s the sum of customers impressions, and the feelings they get when they use your products or services. Your core values drive your brand, because at its core, your brand is a promise to consumers that their realistic expectations of your company will be met at every dealing.

    The CEO’s job is to make that promise simple. His job is to make sure that every communication and every interaction with customers and potential customers delivers on that brand promise.

    When the very things customers admire about your company are the reason you’re taking a political stand, they will proudly recommend you to their friends.

    But, if you gained loyalty by providing great products or services while remaining socially neutral, do not change your brand promise. That only confuses customers, and makes them angry.  When a customer buys ice cream, or coffee, or chicken sandwiches, she wants the best tasting ice cream, or coffee, or chicken sandwich available. When she opens her purse for a book or a cookie, or she donates money to your cancer research fund, she wants to buy your products, your services.  To support a cause she believes worthy

    She doesn’t want to be forced into a situation in which your recently announced ideology doesn’t align with her values.

    You shouldn’t want that either, when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay</a>Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Could aligning with a social issue benefit your company? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected] and start a conversation.  Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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    Inclusive Communication By Design

    Originally published September 29, 2006.



    Your company is looking at a lot of late night local cable availability, and thinking that a 30-minute infomercial might be appropriate.

    The boss has just found out that companies which specialize in infomercial marketing will charge tens of thousands of dollars to produce your program.

    He wants to know why you can’t do it “in house.”

    Can’t you just put a talent in front of a camera and let him persuade those late night visitors to buy?


    DIY Infomercial?

    I wouldn’t.

    Too many dollars would stay on the table.

    In addition to the obvious differences in production quality that an infomercial specialist brings to the table, there is the difference in strategy. The pros know you can’t treat all potential customers alike.

    You see, some people want you to just cut to the bottom line and tell them what your product will do for them.

    Some want to read the fine print.

    Some want to know if other people have successfully used your product to solve their problems.

    And then there’s the group that wants to know a whole lot more about your company before they consider doing business with you.

    The right thing to say to one is exactly the wrong thing to say to the others.

    What’s an aspiring infomercial producer to do?

    According to Dr. Richard Grant, you should make a specific appeal to each of the eight different Meyers-Briggs communication styles in our offers. He calls the process Inclusive Communication by design.

    It only makes sense that if we talk to people about their concerns, in a style that makes them comfortable, and address the questions that are important to them, that we’ll persuade more of them to do business with us.

    Here is my assessment of the approach we need to take with each of the Meyers-Briggs “types” for your new 30-minute infomercial.

    E – needs a good verbal presentation. Cover the major points at a fast pace without too much detail.
    I – needs time to reflect. Will buy, but not before deliberating.
    S – begin with facts, and build to “big picture.”
    N – begin with “big picture” and fill in the facts.
    T – emphasize soundness, reliability, and statistics.
    F – support with first-hand testimonials
    J – no surprises. Appear to stay organized.
    P – diplomatically remind that a decision must be made within certain time constraints

    Here’s how I would organize a program.

    In Practical Application

    Minutes 1-3
    Introduce the show, and summarize the next thirty minutes for the “Js”. Make the overall claims for the product quickly for the “Ns”. Then, for both the “Ns” and the “Ss,” start building your facts. For the “Ss,” build to your conclusion and restate the claims for the product.

    Minutes 4-8
    For the “Ts” support the claims with science. For the “Fs” bring in the testimonials. Keep it fun and fast paced for the “Es”. Explain the dependability of your staff/call center for the “Js” and the fun people will have interacting with them for “Es.” Remind the “Ps” that this special offer is only good during this program.

    Make your first call to action.

    Minutes 9-17
    Repeat your overall claims in summary form for the “Ns.” Build your facts, and re-state your conclusions for the “Ss.” Amplify and expand on the science for the “Ts.” Refer the “Is” to your web site. Reassure the “Js” that everything you’ve promised will happen right on schedule with no surprises. Consider using recorded testimonials from other customers, and use them now for the “Fs.” Again, remind the “Ps” that this special offer is only good during this program.

    Make your second call to action.

    Minutes 18-29
    Have the interviewer “put you on the ropes” and make you defend the claims for the “Ss” and the “Js.” Keep it logical for the “Ts” but light-hearted for the “Es.” Pull out the science in deeper detail, and discuss the manufacturing process for the “Js” and “Ns.”

    Talk about the company, and your commitments to quality and customer satisfaction for the “Ns,” “Ss,” and “Is.” Consider a :40 second interview with one of the call center operators as entertainment for the “Es” and reassurance for the “Js.” Restate that your customers get exactly what they expect on the timetable you’ve committed.

    Remind the “Ps” that it’s time to place an order, if they want to take advantage of this special offer.

    Make your final call to action, and wrap up.

    Cast a Wider Net

    Each personality type is more comfortable with information presented in a particular style. Incorporating all styles into your presentation effectively multiplies the bait when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about articulating your value, and making sure people know it? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.

    If you’re interested in learning more about persona-based marketing, I recommend Waiting for Your Cat to Bark by Bryan Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eisenberg, and Lisa T. Davis. They make simple what could be a confusing subject. That’s probably why the book hit all 4 bestseller lists: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and BusinessWeek.

    In the event that you find yourself considering the services of an infomercial professional, you owe it to yourself to talk to Wizard of Ads ® partner Adam Deatherage at ADco Video Productions.

    Adam is not expensive. Additionally he knows every way to stretch your marketing dollar, including making long-form video, :30 and :60 second television ads from the same footage. Call him for a quote on your next video project at (940) 636-0089.

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    Dear Doctor – How Do Your Patients Rate YOU?

    Originally published December, 2007

    Dear Doctor:

    For a single, brief instant I was your patient.

    I’m new in the community and needed to have my diabetic prescriptions renewed.

    I didn’t mind that I had to wait five weeks for the first appointment. I like that your practice is that busy. It implies that you’re in demand.

    I appreciated the reminder phone call yesterday, confirming the appointment and suggesting that I arrive 15 minutes early to handle any necessary paperwork.

    Perhaps you remember that my appointment was for 10am. Since I didn’t know what the traffic would be like, or how difficult your office would be to find, I left for your office at 9am, and arrived at 9:30. After checking in and completing your new patient forms I sat patiently waiting to be called.

    I wasn’t upset when 10am passed and no one had called my name.

    I wasn’t really upset at 10:15.

    By 10:30 I was becoming annoyed. I asked your receptionist if it was going to be much longer. Without even looking up she told me she didn’t know, but they’d call me as soon as they were ready for me.

    By 10:45 I should have walked out, but I needed my prescriptions. I didn’t have five weeks left to start this process with another doctor.

    I Waited

    At 11:02 a nurse called my name. She weighed me, took my blood pressure, confirmed the meds I’m taking, and showed me to an exam room. She closed the door upon her exit, and I sat alone there until you finally walked in at 11:36.

    Instead of making eye contact you looked at the chart, and introduced yourself. No apology. No recognition of my inconvenience. In fact, you didn’t look up at all until I asked what had caused you to be running 97 minutes behind on your first 120 minutes of operation.

    As you looked into my ears and mouth you told me that you couldn’t anticipate how long each patient would need your attention.

    I wondered why not? You’ve been in business for at least 90 days. It seems to me that tallying the number of patients you see, the number of hours you’re open, and dividing one by the other should get you in the ballpark.

    Perhaps you recall, Doctor, indignantly telling me that you haven’t been able to take a lunch in the last two months? That you worked straight through your scheduled 90 minute mid-day break to take care of the patients waiting to see you?

    If, in every one of the last 60 days it took an extra hour and a half to catch up on half a day’s appointments, then you obviously are scheduling them too close together. This accomplishes nothing but to really make your patients cranky.

    Not as cranky as you appeared, though, when you handed me the scrip I’d come in for. (That was when I explained that by working through lunch you were only making my point).

    And We Arrived at the Critical Moment

    Do you remember when you angrily demanded to know if I understood how much it costs to have your staff standing around waiting on patients, and that you still had student loans to pay off?

    That was the exact moment when our doctor/patient relationship ended.

    Oh, you’re probably not aware of it. I took the sheet with your charges to the clerk and paid on my way out. But, the relationship has definitely ended. I decided that long before I arrived back at my office at 12:29, very angry to have wasted half a day to simply renew the prescriptions I’ve been taking for years.

    You see, whether you realize it or not, you’re a consultant.

    People hire you for the expert advice you give them when they have health care concerns. Many other people are consultants, too. Insurance agents, hair dressers, and Realtors come to mind.

    They call people who purchase their services “customers,” while yours are known as “patients,” but it’s pretty much the same relationship.

    I wouldn’t have waited an hour and a half beyond a firm appointment for any of them. I wouldn’t have expected them to wait on me were the tables turned. But with you and a great many of your colleagues, this is business as usual.

    You Keep Your Productivity High by Insuring That Mine is Low

    That, and your total disrespect for me as your customer are the reasons I won’t be back.

    So, as I tell you goodbye, let me leave you with two thoughts:

    1.Your accountant has been counting your inactive patient files as assets of your practice.

    He’s kidding himself.

    If he ever sat in your waiting room he’d understand why you have such a large percentage of inactive patients.

    2.People like me, the well-paid executives who can afford your services, don’t normally make a scene as we leave.

    We simply determine that you’re not worth the investment of any further time.

    So, when you find yourself squeezed between managed care and deadbeat patients, remember that I’m in my peak earning years, my time is valuable to me, and I’d have gladly paid more for express service.

    Remind yourself, too, that I am a great source of word-of-mouth. Unfortunately, in your case, it won’t be favorable. I will, however, get a massive amount of satisfaction repeating this story. I’ll be telling it for years. When you advertise your practice, how many gross ratings points will you have to purchase just to neutralize me?

    One of these days one of your colleagues is going to figure this out. He’s going to appear on television with a simple message:

    I’m Doctor Johnson, the business person’s doctor. I’m not one of the lower priced doctors in town – in fact, I’m probably one of the most expensive. But, if you’re accepted as my patient (and not everyone is) I promise you’ll never wait more than 15 minutes for your appointment. Come see me. Doctor Johnson, the business person’s doctor, at the corner of Main and Second Street for your convenience.

    He’s going to make a fortune on people like me. Something to consider when you’re fishing for patients.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Need some help seeing your service from your customer’s point of view? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected] and start a conversation.  Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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    Coffee, The Moon Landing, And A Game Of Poker

    Poker Hand

    A winning poker hand.

    I don’t play often, but I appreciate a good game of poker. Poker makes a pretty good analogy for marketing, and for business.

    Poker players know what they hold in their hands, they carefully watch what everyone else appears to be doing. They make educated guesses as to the cards the other players hold.

    Poker players hoard their resources until they know they hold a winner, then they confidently apply all of their resources to winning that particular hand.

    At the end of the game the winner takes the whole pot. The loser loses everything.

    The other players pick up a few bucks now and then and manage to stay in the game.

    In real life marketing the winning hand is held by the company with the greatest share of mind. Let me give you an example.

    Name the First Brand of Coffee You Think of

    Now name another.

    Can you name a third?

    Chances are that you named your first coffee brand rather quickly.  The second came almost as quickly.

    Most people take slightly longer to name the third brand.

    Most People Purchase the First Brand that Comes to Mind.

    Would you like to see how 3,000 other people* answered that question?

    Share of Mind for Coffee

    Share of Mind for Coffee

    People remembered these brands in roughly the same proportion they buy them.

    Conclusion #1: Share of mind predicts share of market.
    Conclusion #2: The first name that shoppers think of is the one they buy.

    How does a company become the first name on the customer’s mental list, and thus hold the face cards in the marketing poker game?

    The Easiest Way is to Actually be First.

    Who was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic? The second? How about the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic?** Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart won those hands. You can’t even name the losers.

    You might remember the second man to set foot on the surface of the moon, but can you name the third?

    Can you name the third expedition to the North Pole? The third Pope? The third signature on the US Declaration of Independence? (How about the third amendment to the Constitution)?

    In share of mind, share of market, and poker, third position is a loser. Winners come in first. Second place sometimes makes a few bucks. Beyond that, money gets very tight.

    “But wait a minute, Chuck” (I can hear you saying), “I have a small business in a small town. I’m not the first at anything.”

    This is Where Marketing Makes a Difference.

    Charles and Frank Duryea built the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1893 – a full ten years before Henry Ford got into the business.*** Henry made the automobile affordable to every household, creating phenomenal word of mouth on the Model T. Henry held the winning poker hand, and became the most famous automobile manufacturer of all time. How many of the losing hands can you even remember?

    The best selling MP3 player of all time is the iPod, but Apple didn’t invent the device. Rio did, in 1998, nearly three years before the iPod hit the market. Rio built an expensive toy for people who loved technology. Apple created a toy for people who love music. Apple wins that poker hand. (And, tell the truth, until I mentioned the name, you didn’t even remember the Rio player, did you)?

    Your objective is to make your company the one that people automatically think of when they need what you sell. When you’re first on that list, they don’t even think about buying elsewhere.

    You see, the first company to make a claim has an 85% chance of being remembered for that claim. The second company has about a 15% chance. The third company less than 5%.

    Ford and Apple simply out promoted Duryea and Rio, respectively. Neither was first in the market. Each became first in the minds of their prospective customers.

    Can You be First at Something?

    Absolutely. In fact, its essential.

    To be remembered, to hold top position in share of mind, to hold the winning hand in marketing your business, you must be first at something.

    I’d suggest that you choose to be first in the reason your existing customers do business with you now.

    Find out what your current customers believe you provide that they can’t get anywhere else. Then, start promoting that. Promote it to the point that you’re now playing in a whole new game, and in this game you hold the winning cards.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Have questions about finding a niche and being first in it? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.


    * BRANDPOLL survey of coffee brands, January-March 2001.

    ** Charles Lindberg, May 20, 1927; Amelia Earhart, May 20, 1932 on the fifth anniversary of Lindberg’s crossing.

    *** Nicholas Joseph Cugnot designed the first steam powered self-propelled vehicle in 1769. The device was so heavy that it had to run on roadways of steel, and evolved into the modern locomotive. Etienne Lenoir patented the first practical gas engine (coal gas) and drove a car powered with one from Paris to Joinville in 1862.



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    Physicists, Piano Tuners, and Market Research

    First published May 29, 2005

    Enrico Fermi

    Enrico Fermi

    Don’t expect most scientists to admit it, but a physics technique called the Fermi Question provides a quick and simple way for business people to determine whether a new market is large enough to be profitable.

    Enrico Fermi was one of most well-rounded physicists of the last century, a Nobel Prize winner who was able to switch from practical to theoretical and back to practical, and make it look easy.

    Until his death in 1954, Enrico taught the estimating technique that now bears his name. In the absence of definite knowledge or an exact answer, a Fermi Question’s goal is to obtain an informed estimate by making reasonable assumptions.

    Fermi Used Common Sense in Science

    Fermi would demand that his students at the University of Chicago explain to him how many grains of sand are on the world’s beaches. How far can a crow fly without stopping? How many atoms of Caesar’s last breath do you inhale with each lungful of air? How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?

    Fermi Questions required students to use their understanding of the world, and their everyday experience, to make rough approximations in areas of which they had no knowledge.

    But as I said, you and I will find the Fermi Question quite valuable as a business tool.

    Fermi’s Classic Piano Tuner Question

    Assume that you’re a young piano tuner who’s still ruffling the pages of their jazz piano tutorial. You’re about to set off into the world to seek your fortune.

    Your favorite uncle lives in Chicago. He says you’re welcome to come stay with him while you get your piano tuning business off the ground. Shall we analyze the market potential before you accept his offer and open a piano tuning business in Chicago?

    Start with the population of Chicago: according to estimates from the most recent U.S. Census, roughly 9,400,000 people live in the greater Chicago metro area.

    The Census Bureau also helps us estimate that there are two and a half people per average household. Therefore Chicago is home to 3,760,000 families.

    Fifty years ago one home in four had a piano, but since the Beatles burst on the music scene, people don’t gather ‘round the piano to sing, anymore. Shall we assume that only one household in 30 owns a piano today? That would lead us to conclude that there are 125,333 pianos in Chicago.

    Some performers with critical ears may demand tuning at each changing of the seasons. Those owners are likely offset by others who own a piano, but never tune it. On the average, a fair assumption might be that each of those 125,333 pianos in Chicago are tuned once per year – 125,333 piano tunings per year.

    Allowing for commute time across the greater Chicago metro area, perhaps a fair estimate is that a technician can tune three pianos each day. If he works a five-day, fifty-week year, each tuner could service 750 pianos each year.

    Divide 125,333 pianos by 750 tunings, and there appears to be enough work to employ 167 piano tuners.

    How Close Did We Come?

    A quick look at switchboard.com under “piano servicing and tuning” tells us that 126 businesses in the greater Chicago area offer piano tuning.

    How many tuners operate out of each business?

    We should perhaps gather some hard data on this one with a few phone calls, but if one third employed two tuners, and the other two thirds employed only one, the average would be one and a third tuners per piano servicing business: 164 piano tuners competing in a market which appears to have enough work to employ 167.

    Not bad.

    Maybe our next step should be to ask for price quotes from future competitors. Then we could determine whether one could make a living performing 750 piano tunings per year. But regardless of the conclusion, we were able to make an informed decision with a couple of quick Google searches and about ten minutes of “think time.”

    Our Goal Isn’t Accuracy

    The Fermi Question won’t tell you with absolute accuracy whether a business proposition is feasible, but it can quickly provide a ballpark figure to eliminate those which can’t work.

    Using this technique, could you quickly estimate the number of life insurance salespeople that could make a living in Phoenix? The number of profitable convenience stores in Pensacola? The number of brew pubs in Raleigh?

    Would application of the Fermi Question help you to determine whether your bedding store should expand into sofas and loveseats?

    Could you make a better decision about whether an additional salesperson could generate enough sales to cover his salary?

    Might you use estimates like these to help you decide whether it makes sense to approach your primary competitor with a buyout offer?

    I’m not suggesting that you don’t need hard data. I’m a major proponent of acquiring as much market data as is available, or that you can afford. You’d agree, though, wouldn’t you, that when the data’s not available, an informed estimate beats an uninformed guess every time?

    Tell the physicists to move over. We’re co-opting one of their tools, and using it to fish for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about estimating your chances of success in a new market? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.

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    The Circle Layout

    Originally Published December 7, 2005

    Fishing 101

    Fishing 101

    Marketing consultant George S. Cullinan (1911-1963) was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame in 1989 for being “the first to recognize the significance of databases as a foundation for successful direct marketing.”

    Today we’re going to look an another George Cullinan creation: the “circle layout.” This concept is an idea of value to everyone who uses words and images to promote business.

    Artists Don’t Think Like You Do

    Cullinan believed that the art department should never be trusted to correctly lay out the advertising, that instead those decisions should always come from the merchandising department.

    Since Cullinan didn’t expect his merchandise buyers to become skilled artists, he suggested that they use a simple set of circles of various sizes to communicate with the art department what to include, and the relative placement and space of each element.

    In a circle layout, the number of circles is equal to the number of illustrations, headlines, and story elements to be included. Of course, one need not be limited to oval shapes. Rectangles have their uses, too. The key is to use the relative sizes of the shapes to quickly convey the approximate importance of each design element.

    Example 1: Newspaper Ad

    Let’s assume that my local newspaper has offered to build my new ad. I’ve told the newspaper account executive about my business. He should be able to take this sketch and his notes to his advertising department and bring back an ad proof with no surprises.


    Example 2: Catalog Page

    Were I working with an advertising agency, I’d be providing the agency raw information and this sketch. I’d expect their artists and copywriters to be able to build my catalog page pretty much as I’d imagined it.


    Example 3: Flyer

    If I needed a local printer to make up some flyers for my business, I would provide the photo or line drawing, my logo, and the selling verbiage to be included in the copy. Any local printer should be able to follow this concept and deliver the flyer I’m expecting.

    It’s Communication

    Why should you provide the circle layout to your commercial artwork provider? Simple. She isn’t you.

    You’re the person responsible for moving product. You probably already know which advertising elements will capture attention and motivate a purchaser to buy. Who knows better than you do exactly what must be emphasized? Or what could be left out? Whether the photo or the body copy needed more emphasis? Whether or not to include a coupon?


    How (and What) to Lay Out

    Before starting your circle layout, make a checklist for yourself, and include such items as:

    • Headlines
    • Photos / illustrations
    • Body copy
    • Prices
    • Special offers
    • Coupons
    • Logos or other company identification
    • Legal disclaimers

    Modify your checklist so that nothing gets overlooked during the planning stages.

    It Even Works for Non-Visual Media

    Cullinan developed the circle layout for catalog pages and flyers, but I’m sure you can see that this simple communication method can work equally well for other media.

    Not only will you find it useful for magazines, newspapers, and billboards, but you’ll find that it helps the copywriter of your television ads or radio ads to better understand the message you need her to deliver. I wouldn’t hesitate to give a copy to a direct response writer who was composing a solicitation letter.

    Try it on your next advertising project and see if you don’t agree. I’d love to hear how you implement the circle layout in fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Have questions about communicating your vision to your service providers? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.

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    Are Your Ads Working? Can You Prove It?

    Originally published June 3, 2005

    Rosser Reeves

    The late Rosser Reeves, former CEO Ted Bates Advertising.

    In 1961 Rosser Reeves, the Creative Director of Ted Bates Advertising, Inc., wrote a book titled Reality In Advertising. Although it’s now out of print, you may be able to find a copy at a used bookstore or a library.

    Reeves was the man who created “I Like Ike,” “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” and the famous Anacin ad with the tiny bubbles carrying relief to boxes in a silhouette head.

    Reeves also had a simple method of determining whether an ad was “working.”

    Reeves Ad Penetration Test

    His staff phoned 1,000 people across the country at random and asked two questions:

    Are you familiar with our advertising?

    Do you use our product?

    He put the tallies into a grid much like this one.

    Please appreciate the elegant simplicity of this test.

    Some People Will Remember Your Ads

    The left side is made up of people who are familiar with your ads.

    As a percentage of the total, these people represent your MARKET PENETRATION. The higher your Market Penetration, the better your advertising is working. The lower your score, the greater potential for increased sales with a good advertising campaign.

    The top side is made up of people who buy what you have to sell.

    If ten percent of the unpenetrated group buys your product, and twenty percent of the penetrated group buys, you may subtract the first group from the second to get what Rosser Reeves called the “Usage Pull” of your advertising. Today it’s better known as the CONVERSION FACTOR.

    Sometimes, No Exposure is Better

    Thankfully, we don’t see it often, but it is possible to have a negative Conversion Factor. This is evidence that your advertising is actually harming sales. Should you find yourself in this situation, STOP YOUR ADVERTISING IMMEDIATELY and get help.

    Reeves techniques are nearly half a century old, but they still work exceptionally well. If you can find a copy, Reality In Advertising deserves a place in your marketing library.  Consider it a guidebook to go fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Have questions about whether your advertising is drawing customers?  Drop Chuck a note at [email protected].  Or call him at 304-208-7654.

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    How Many Pancake Restaurants?

    Originally published April 16, 2006


    A stack of pancakes.

    People seem to naturaly rank things. They list things in order. They tend to remember things at the tops of the various lists.

    On nearly any list, most people can remember the top three with little effort. It’s generally accepted that seven is the maximum simultaneous number of items that the average person will remember.

    In 1980 consultants Al Ries and Jack Trout suggested that as astute marketers we take advantage of this human characteristic, and “position” our products against whomever tops the list.

    This creates a new list, with us at the top. That makes it easier to remember.

    One of their examples was 7-Up

    As a soft drink it was way down the list. As the “Uncola” it was number one, beating out Coke.

    As a soft drink, 7-Up needs you to remember Coke, Pepsi, Royal Crown, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, before you’re likely to remember 7-Up.

    As the Uncola, 7-Up needs you only to remember 7-Up.

    The Uncola is a marketing position. It’s a mental shortcut. It let’s you get your message across in just a few seconds. A marketing position reminds your customers “Here’s why we’re worth recommending. Here’s why your friends and colleagues will be glad you told them about us.”

    Let’s apply this concept to an industry familiar to all of us.

    Hamburger Restaurants

    How many hamburger restaurants can you remember? Four? Six? Most people can remember seven. Did anyone do nine (without peeking)?

    Suppose you have a hankerin’ for a double cheeseburger. Does any particular restaurant come to mind?

    Here are the rankings of hamburger restaurants in the U.S:

    1. McDonald’s
    2. Wendy’s
    3. Burger King
    4. Sonic
    5. Jack In The Box
    6. Dairy Queen
    7. Hardees
    8. Roy Rogers
    9. Carl’s Jr.
    10. Rax
    11. WhatABurger
    12. White Castle
    13. Krystal
    14. Fudrucker’s
    15. A&W
    16. Ralley’s

    How many of these names did you remember?

    Our question was, “Does any particular restaurant come to mind?”

    Did anyone say “IHOP?”

    Silly question?

    Perhaps. After all, you can get a double cheeseburger at IHOP.

    Even though they don’t mention cheeseburgers in their ads, IHOP has them on the menu.

    So, why does IHOP not mention cheseburgers in their ads?

    Two reasons: the cost of advertising; and the number of names down the list IHOP would find themselves.

    Share of mind roughly equates to share of market.

    In order to to create a space in your memory and help you to remember that IHOP has burgers, they’d have to beat out all of the hamburger chains listed.

    They’d have to help you to remember at least seventeen down on this list. That’s a formidible undertaking. And, since we can predict minimal success, it’s likely to be very expensive when costs are compared to results.

    No matter how much they spend, IHOP will never have more than a tiny fraction of the hamburger market.

    How many pancake restaurants can you name?


    So, instead of hoping that you’ll remember at least sixteen other restaurants and still have mental space (and frankly, the willingness) to remember IHOP, they don’t mention burgers at all in their ads.

    Instead, they make it easier for you to remember IHOP by becoming the top of a completely different list.

    Instead of getting the crumbs of the hamburger market, they get the biggest share of the breakfast market. And in the minds of the public, IHOP pretty much owns the pancake position.

    Marketing position = “specialization”

    Frequently when I recommend specialization, people think I’m talking about refusing business.

    I’m not.

    Our objective is to capture a larger share of market. The actual competition for a greater share of awareness happens within shoppers’ minds.

    By specializing we create a position at the top of some small list (market) rather than attempt to compete for awareness from way down a much bigger list (market).

    Specialists do not refuse customer’s money * at the cash register. Their ads just don’t talk about things that are not likely to be remembered.

    Let’s take a test

    1. IHOP is famous for _______?
    2. Waffle House is famous for _______?
    3. Tony Roma’s is famous for ______?
    4. Marie Calender’s is famous for _______?
    5. Spaghetti Warehouse is famous for _______?
    6. Black Angus is famous for ______?
    7. Olive Garden is famous for ______?
    8. Lotus Garden is famous for _______?
    9. Panda Express is famous for _______?
    10. Pizza Hut is famous for ______?
    11. Taco Bell is famous for _______?
    12. Kentucky Fried Chicken is famous for ______?
    13. McDonalds is famous for _______?
    14. Red Lobster is famous for _______?
    15. Hometown Buffet / Old Country Buffet is famous for _______?
    16. Benihana is famous for _______?

    Humm. Same number as the list of hamburger restaurants. And yet, you do remember most of these.

    Each has created a unique marketing position, and that position places each of them the top of a completely different mental list. Each has stopped trying to get a smaller share of the “dining out” market, and is instead competing for dominance within their speciality.

    Your business is not likely to be a restaurant. Regardless, to compete in the minds of shoppers, it needs a position. That position will be a specialty.

    What is your business’ position? Owning one is almost a requirement when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Have questions about exploiting your own position / marketing niche? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

    * Ok. I lied. Specialists do turn away some potential business.

    A Chinese restaurant will not maintain its position in the minds of customers by adding Mexican dishes to the menu.

    If you found a menu that contained Chinese dishes, and Mexican delicacies, and Italian cooking, as well as burgers, would you believe the food was likely to be good? Or would you assume that these people can’t possibly excell at all different styles of cooking?


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    Trends and Cycles and Advertising In Them

    Trend graph.

    Trend graph.

    Originally published August 12, 2008.

    Some trends are cyclical. Some are obvious. Sometimes both. Most are also predictable.

    Are all trends cyclical? Hardly.

    In the 90s, as growing demand and sophisticated technology converged to create the Internet, providing service to local subscribers was a great growth business. Look at the incredible growth of AOL, Compuserve, and hundreds of local ISPs throughout the country.

    Today, however, Internet service is a commodity. There’s no hope of a repeat of the dramatic growth curve of the last two decades.

    Trend, yes. No cycle.

    But the housing boom of the last few years? That was an obvious trend, with an equally obvious cyclical behavior. Equity growth can’t continue at double digit rates indefinitely. By the time cab drivers and school teachers are buying second homes as investment properties, the boom is about over.

    Trend? Definitely. Cycle? Equally definite.

    We’ve seen this cycle before, haven’t we?

    We’ve seen what happens after a real estate crash. We all remember 1992.

    In each phase of each cycle, some businesses will benefit, and others will be damaged. Real estate brokers and mortgage lenders did very well during the real estate boom. They won’t be doing well in the immediate future. Bankruptcy attorneys and payday loan companies will, however.

    While the housing bubble was rising, anyone hanging out a shingle got business. Advertising? That was a totally unnecessary expense.

    Now that the bubble has burst, how many brokers have left the industry? How many have laid off their staff, and are again operating out of their homes?

    Suppose you had been the one.

    The one real estate broker in town who had realized that markets don’t go up forever. Suppose that you’d started building your image as a problem solver, as the company who can get it done, back when times were good. Who would stressed sellers turn to today to help them get their overpriced homes off the market?

    The time to build image, to create Top-Of-Mind-Awareness, is before someone needs your services.

    When times are good, people may choose you because of your reputation. They may choose you as a result of your advertising. But, sometimes, you may simply be the beneficiary of so many people in the market that you’re tripping over them.

    That was a fair description of the recent real estate market in this country. It’s about to be the description of the state of personal finance, too.

    Trend? Yup. Cyclical? Obviously. Predictable? You tell me.

    And, much like real estate brokering, and mortgage lending in the early years of this decade, do you suspect a dramatic increase in the number of bankruptcy attorneys and payday loan companies?

    Yes. It’s a safe bet (but probably a poor metaphor, huh?)

    So, what’s ahead for bankruptcy attorneys and payday loan companies? A year or so of so much business they’ll trip over it. Followed by lean times when the “market correction” has played out.

    What’s my advice?

    Don’t depend on your Yellow Pages ads.

    Oh, they’re working well right now. By the time someone is in trouble and needs your services, they’ll open the directory and search for any headline that promises them relief from their particular pain. When people open the Yellow Pages they’ve already decided to buy. But since they have no familiarity with you, and no preference for anyone, it’s a crap shoot whom they’ll buy from.

    When the onslaught of people in financial trouble diminishes (as all trends do), you’re going to have to start competing with other bankruptcy attorneys or payday loan companies for the small amount of business that’s left. You’re going to need an image in people’s minds if you expect them to pick you. You can’t build image in a directory listing.

    Start now in other media.

    Give compelling reasons that people who need your services should choose you. Start now when cash is flowing and investments in your future are less painful. Start now, because it takes time to influence the way people think, and you’ll need that time when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about how economic trends affect advertising? Drop Chuck a note at[email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.


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